Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Indoor air quality -- some winter (and year round) tips

This time of year the green living talk is all about home energy audits and the things we’re doing to keep the heat in and those insidious cold drafts out. We’re working harder than ever to keep our homes snug and tight, all the while oblivious to what our efficiency efforts are doing to the quality of our indoor air. That’s why this time of year more than any other we need to be aware of what we’re breathing at home.

Indoor air pollution is a greater concern these days because our homes are much tighter than they were in the past and they’re filled with more synthetic items, including air fresheners, cleaning products, upholstered furniture, carpets, fabricated wood items, scented beauty products and scented petroleum-based candles. These synthetics off-gas – meaning they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – that are all toxic to varying degrees. It is estimated that indoor air is about five times more polluted than outdoor air. (And that comparison isn’t based on fresh country air it’s based on the air quality in your average city.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to people’s health.

In warm weather it’s easy to open the windows to let a breeze flush out bad air. You probably don’t want to do that on a cool January day so here are a few alternatives to help keep your indoor air healthier this winter.

Choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies that are less toxic than conventional products. Look for those with the EcoLogo certification so you don’t have to decipher labels. Better yet, switch to vinegar and baking soda for most of your cleaning needs.

Ensure your stove top is properly vented (especially if you have a gas stove) and avoid cooking with Teflon coated pans since they emit toxic fumes when used at high temperatures.

If you’re painting choose low VOC or zero-VOC paints. Home Depot, Home Hardware and Benjamin Moore all carry lines of these eco-friendly paints that make a newly painted room livable and much healthier.

Avoid room fresheners, especially those that plug in. The chemical fragrances used in these are highly toxic.

Buy fragrance-free beauty products and avoid all aerosols (you inhale all of those tiny spray particles).

Choose soy or beeswax candles rather than regular candles, which are made from petroleum products. And go the unscented route since artificial fragrances are toxic in their own right.

If you heat with a wood stove or wood insert ensure the chimney is properly cleaned annually.

Incorporate house plants into your home decorating - they help to clean the air by absorbing toxins. Spider plants, philodendrons, mums, peace lilies, gerbera daisies and English ivy are some of the best. You need about one plant for every 100 square feet of living space in your home to really take advantage of the benefits.

Being aware of indoor air quality and the simple things you can do to improve it are the first steps to breathing easier this winter.

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